“Living and Lingering in Love”

My intention in starting this blog was to chronicle the places and times my eyes caught a glimpse of the Divine among the mundane. So where I have seen God this week?

In too many ways to count, actually!

Last Monday I led a devotional for a church ministry leadership team. We’ve been reading a book together and this phrase, “living and lingering with the Father who loves me,” grabbed hold of my heart. I could have treated the devo like one more thing on my To Do list and I could have led it as such, but instead I used it to provide an opportunity for us to linger in God’s love.

Instead of spending a lot of time discussing a chapter any of us could read I took us to Luke 8, the Parable of the Sower. The thing God impressed upon me from Luke 8 is that the primary difference between the fertile soil and the others is that the good soil not only receives God’s Word but clings to it. I hear a lot of God’s Word, but how do I cling to it? There’s the challenge. So this week I began writing about God’s Word, for myself, as a way of lingering with God in conversation about His Word. There are certainly other ways to cling to God’s Word, but this is working for me.

Tuesday I had the opportunity to host a lovely friend for lunch in my backyard. We talked about the challenges of a busy ministry schedule, and that while programs are well and good, Jesus fostered relationships. Relationships require time to ‘waste’ together. She told me some of the ways she has been intentional in relationships with her immediate neighbors and with those in her ‘neighborhood’ – coffee shop and friends of friends, mostly. I am encouraged to look for relational opportunities, to linger.

Wednesday the church staff had a great conversation about the need for water, and how new shoots grow from old plants in the right conditions, which led to a discussion about how we can tend to the new shoots who participated in our spring break Mexico house building trip. That afternoon I took Teen on a spontaneous coffee run and saw two teenage girls in the coffee shop, one meeting with an adult from our church and the other who told me she’d met with her team leader the day before. I hadn’t planned to be at that coffee shop at that time, but God allowed me a few extra minutes in order to show me that it doesn’t take a lot of program for relationships to develop – it just takes willing adults ready to foster relationships in His name.

Also Wednesday a friend told me about her amazing experience on a two-week trip to Ghana to work at a preschool. She’s well-rounded in mission experience but this trip grabbed her heart differently. How so? Her specific skill set is exactly what the Ghanaian school needs, and she saw just in two weeks the difference she’s already made and a vision for what else she can do. Joy overflowed in her stories. She can’t wait to go back, and those listening can’t wait to hear what happens next – isn’t that a great way to build a support team?

Friday Guy and I took a much-needed day to spend together. We went to Napa, just over an hour’s drive from our home, for a wine and chocolate tasting, a Christmas gift experience Guy arranged for me. We talked and laughed, we sipped and enjoyed. We made conversation with the winery employee who served us, and we joined the wine club to continue the experience – and potentially, the relationship with our new friend. We ate lunch outside at one of our favorite spots and we walked around the gourmet marketplace next door. After a stressful few months of too much work and a resulting strained relationship, the day was exactly what we needed.

Friday night we hosted friends new and old for a barbecue. Kids and adults, people who’ve known each other for years and others only for a few hours, mixed and mingled and felt welcome. It’s exactly what I want for our home: for people to know they are welcome, to relax and enjoy and be together.

Saturday was all about time with Tween and a baseball game where encouragement flew faster than the ball, and today I’ve set aside for Teen and his final rugby match of the season. We’ll have hours together in the car and then I’ll do the thing I do best as Mom, cheering him on from the sidelines.

Living and lingering in love – that’s what Jesus modeled, and that’s what I want to be about. Less busy-ness, more love. Yes!

Fit Kids

Dear PE Teacher,

I remember the Presidential Youth Fitness tests from my elementary school days. Every year my classmates and I took fitness tests including running, sit ups, push ups, and chin ups. These tests took time away from playing the games we regularly enjoyed, like volley tennis or handball; they were boring; and worst of all, for some of us they were deeply humiliating. I am discouraged to realize that they’re still in use, and that my son has endured the same shame I experienced.

The fit kids know they’re fit and the not-so-fit kids know they aren’t – and so does everyone else. You know who’s who, and I’m sure you don’t have to administer the fitness tests to sort kids into categories.

The Presidential Youth Fitness Program (PYFP) website tells me their slogan: “Champion fitness. Champion kids.” Great idea, let’s champion fitness among kids! Fitness is crucial to good health and the benefits extend beyond the body, to good attitudes and academics. But the idea that these fitness tests will lead “to youth who are active for life,” not so much.

These tests do not motivate. To the contrary, they segregate and provide ammunition for teasing and self-deprecation. Kids are naturally adept at sorting themselves into categories: girls and boys; athletes and artists; hard-working and goofball; smart and, hmm, how about differently gifted? We learn early how to label and where we belong. From the fitness tests, I learned that I am not fit and I don’t fit in and, oh well, I guess I’ll just never be sporty so I won’t bother to try.

Sports were not a priority in my childhood home. I’ve always been bookish so my family encouraged my strengths and ignored my weaknesses. I tried swimming and tennis but no team sports and nothing long-term. Maybe I would’ve liked some sport, but I didn’t have the right opportunities to try. As I’ve gotten older I have found a healthy activity that works for me, walking/hiking, and I love how I feel when I get regular exercise.

That’s the key: exposing kids to the fun of playing and the positive health benefits that result. Kids play naturally; they want to swing and climb and slide and run, so do it! Play sports with them, but also play active games. Make up new games – it levels the playing field because nobody can be already good at a game they’ve never before played. Better yet, get kids involved in making up new games; tap into their creativity and you might engage some otherwise timid players.

Measuring kids against an arbitrary “health standard” during a time in life when their bodies are growing at an also arbitrary rate doesn’t motivate. Have you ever noticed the size discrepancies between kids in the same grade? Short and tall, skinny and wide, kids hit growth spurts at different times. Meanwhile their oh-so-fragile sense of self is also developing. Fitness testing made a major dent in my young ego, a dent I still struggle to look past.

As a parent, I have offered my kids the opportunity to be involved in recreational sports each season. They play for fun, to learn a game, to develop friendships, and to experience positive life lessons like teamwork and perseverance. Currently Tween plays baseball.

bats

Before teams were formed all players and coaches came together to work on basic skills. The coach running the skills day told a story. His dad left their family when he was three years old; his mom did her best to parent three kids, two daughters and a son. But by the time he was seven this kid was, by his own account, “the biggest wuss in the county.” He’d upturn a game of checkers if he lost. So one day his mom pulled their car up to a park, pointed toward a man and said, “There’s your baseball coach. Get out,” and she drove away.

During their first game, the kid struck out. He threw the bat and batting helmet and stomped off. His coach grabbed him, made him pick up his gear, and then sat with him in the dugout. The coach asked about the kid’s favorite player, and then quoted some probably legendary stats about how many times that player struck out at bat. The kid was shocked, and then surprised when the coach demanded, “He’s been playing baseball for years. What makes you think you’re gonna be a better player than he is in your first game?”

Last summer that kid, now a professional youth sports coach running a successful sports clinic, took that coach to five professional baseball games and plans to do the same this summer. That coach instilled good sportsmanship and love for sports into that kid, and he changed the kid’s life.

Baseball is not my favorite sport, too long and slow to hold my attention. But I smiled my way through today’s game and can’t wait for next week. You see, this league promotes good sportsmanship and love for the game. Many of the players are new to the sport; they’re not great, but who cares? They show up ready to play and every adult out there – coaches and parents alike – shows up for the kids. I’ve never heard so many encouraging words flying around a sports field! Better yet, the kids mimicked the adults in their comments to one another: “Nice and easy,” “Just like playing catch,” “You’ve got this!” “Great swing!” “Good try.”

They’re playing new positions and taking risks, running, throwing hard, sweating, and best of all, having a great time together playing a game on a beautiful Saturday afternoon. That matters so much more than how many sit ups my kid can do, or maybe, can’t do.

Comic kid sport moment: Tween couldn't get the catcher's helmet off without help from his coach - guess one size doesn't not quite fit all!

Comic kid sport moment: Tween couldn’t get the catcher’s helmet off without help from his coach – guess one size doesn’t not quite fit all!

Like anyone, kids want to do more of what they enjoy and less of what they don’t. So, PE Teacher, by all means, do some sit ups with the kids. Teach them correct technique, and explain the reason to do them. If you can, make it fun. But above all, emphasize play with kids. Teach them to encourage themselves and one another, teach them good sportsmanship, and help them find joy in active play. That will really make you a Champion for kids.

The One and Only

one and only

I can get a little pretentious about which books I will read, not so smart my brain hurts (although even that’s fine on occasion) but nothing poorly written even though it may be wildly, flying-off-the-shelves popular. I had just read a gut-wrenching, wonderful book (We Were Liars) and picked up this little number as a completely light, no-thinking read.

But I almost gave it up as fast as you can say, “library return.” I’m glad I didn’t!

You see, I don’t give a hoot about sports unless my kids, or at least someone I know, is playing. And this book is about a young woman completely obsessed with football, and in particular, her college football team and its coach, her best friend’s dad. I wasn’t sure I could relate. At all.

Giffin is a better writer than most would give her credit, considering she writes what one might call “Chick Lit,” which tends to be just on this side of the line from full-on bodice rippers. But she’s one smart chica and writes characters with whom I could relate, sports aside. Even the sports scenes, which I should have wanted to skip entirely, read fast and bright, like listening to a great announcer at a pro stadium.

Two weeks after I finished the book, I kind of miss Shea and Lucy and Coach Carr. They’re likeable people, and an author who can write characters with whom I’d like to hang out is an author I will read.

Be a Good Sport

I stopped playing Monopoly in college.

Guy and I and another couple spent a weekend together at his parents’ home in Santa Cruz. Late Saturday afternoon I witnessed a game of Monopoly transform my kind and generous friends into greedy Wall Street sharks.

And that was it. I quit playing mid-game and tried to disguise my disgust as they each played hard to amass wealth while bankrupting each other. I tell you this not because I’m anti-capitalism (I’m not), but to demonstrate that competition doesn’t motivate me like it does others.

ballWinning is the goal of game playing. Of course. But I support my kids playing sports for reasons more important than winning:

1. Exercise.
2. Learn to play a game.
3. Be a good teammate.
4. Practice a good attitude.

Winning is a bonus, but those four goals are essential.

About a year ago Teen played a rugby match against a team notorious for their unsportsmanlike conduct. A year prior the club had been fined when it came out that adults paid players per injury inflicted (concussions, particularly) on their opponents. The coaching staff was competitive to a fault and fostered bad attitudes in the club.

Those bad attitudes manned the field and the sidelines. Players and parents alike shouted at their opponents (Teen’s team), at the coaches and the ref. They played angrily and hurled invective as viciously as they stomped the pitch. When I commented to a friend, “It’s just a game!” one of their players standing nearby vomited curse words all over me.

The ref finally called the game when the other team’s parents stormed the field in protest over a call. For the rest of the day I felt dirty. There’s no excuse for that kind of bad behavior over a game played by teenagers. Fortunately, the league agreed and disbanded the team altogether.

Tween plays on a basketball team. Only in his second season, he’s not the team’s strongest player but he enjoys it and has definitely shown improvement. The team, however, is remarkable. They look like misfits but have won all but one game which they lost by one penalty shot. Watching this team learn to work together and play hard – and then win week after week – has been a highlight of my Saturdays this winter.

A dad of one of the kids on Tween’s team keeps up a steady commentary of mostly negative remarks throughout each game. It’s bugged me all season, especially when I see his kid, a pretty good player, glance to him for approval and look away again, crestfallen.

Today I snapped. Seated one bleacher behind me and slightly to my left, with no one between us, he shouted: “Oh No! DON’T give the ball to Tween!”

I surprised myself when I spun towards him and said, “Can you please stop?”

He looked as if I’d slapped him. “What?” he asked.

“That’s my kid. You don’t have to say unkind things.”

And get this response, people: “I just want to win the game.”

Did he really tell me that if my kids’ hands touch the ball the team will lose? Yes, that’s exactly what he meant. And let’s be clear, AS IF your snarky remarks in the bleachers are going to have any effect whatsoever on the court. How rude!

I responded more politely than I felt: “So do I. So does he! But your unkind words don’t do anyone any good.”

He didn’t shut up completely, but he sure didn’t mention Tween again. And we won the game, a hard-fought 28-24.

Children’s sports should be a safe place to learn, to experiment, to exercise, and to grow as positive human beings. And children, like the rest of us, need encouragement. Truth be told, I cheered today for the great baskets shot by the opposing team as well as our own. When a kid makes a great shot, it’s a great shot worthy of praise.

Winning isn’t everything, attitude is. On the field and in the stands, win or lose, I pray my kids will always exhibit grace and kindness.